The Best British Documentaries 

Ranker Film
Updated June 21, 2019 293 votes 128 voters 11.4k views 36 items

The British are frequently considered the best journalists on the planet, so it adds up that they would make fantastic documentaries. This list of the best British documentaries spans a wide range of topics with one constant: they are all excellent examples of British documentary filmmaking. Whether you're from the UK or not, if you enjoy documentaries and British perspective, then you you'll want to watch the films below.

Exit Through the Gift Shop was directed by famous graffiti artist Banksy, and tells the story of Thierry Guetta, who become known as the graffiti artist Mr. Brainwash. To this day people still aren’t sure whether or not the entire project was a hoax orchestrated by Banksy.

Dont Look Back documented Bob Dylan’s 1965 tour of the UK. It is widely considered to be one of the finest documentaries ever made.

Which of these English documentaries are your favorites? Vote them to the top of the list, and add any to the poll that aren't already here.

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The Thin Blue Line
Cracked Actor is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list The Best British Documentaries

Released: 1975

Directed by: Alan Yentob

Cracked Actor is a 53-minute-long BBC television documentary film about the rock star David Bowie. It was filmed in 1974. At the time he was a cocaine addict and the documentary has become ...more

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Exit Through the Gift Sh... is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list The Best British Documentaries

Released: 2010

Directed by: Banksy

Watch for Free with Amazon Prime Free Trial "In the late 1990s, a hybrid form of graffiti began appearing in cities around the world. Enlisting stickers, stencils, posters, and sculpture and spread by the burgeoning Internet, it ...more
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Released: 1967

Directed by: D. A. Pennebaker

Dont Look Back [sic] is a 1967 American documentary film by D. A. Pennebaker that covers Bob Dylan's 1965 concert tour in the United Kingdom. In 1998 the film was selected for preservation in ...more
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Released: 1929

Directed by: Dziga Vertov

Man with a Movie Camera is an experimental 1929 silent documentary film, with no story and no actors, by Soviet director Dziga Vertov, edited by his wife Elizaveta Svilova. Vertov's feature ...more

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Nyla, Allakariallak, Cunayou

Released: 1922

Directed by: Robert J. Flaherty

Nanook of the North is a 1922 American silent documentary film by Robert J. Flaherty, with elements of docudrama, at a time when separating films into documentary and drama did not yet exist. In ...more
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Régis Debray, Marceline Loridan Ivens, Landry

Released: 1961

Directed by: Edgar Morin, Jean Rouch

Chronique d'un été is a documentary film made during the summer of 1960 by sociologist Edgar Morin and anthropologist and filmmaker Jean Rouch, with the technical and aesthetic ...more
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Released: 1975

Directed by: Albert Maysles, David Maysles, Ellen Hovde, Muffie Meyer

Grey Gardens is a 1975 American documentary film by Albert and David Maysles. Ellen Hovde and Muffie Meyer also directed, and Susan Froemke was the associate producer. Although Susan Froemke is ...more
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The Up Series
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Released: 1971

Directed by: Marcel Ophüls

The Sorrow and the Pity is a two-part 1969 documentary film by Marcel Ophüls about the collaboration between the Vichy government and Nazi Germany during World War II. The film uses ...more
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Peter Bogdanovich, Joseph Cotten, Elmyr de Hory

Released: 1973

Directed by: Orson Welles

F for Fake is the last major film completed by Orson Welles, who directed, co-wrote, and starred in the film. Initially released in 1974, it focuses on Elmyr de Hory's recounting of his career ...more

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Out There is listed (or ranked) 12 on the list The Best British Documentaries
Tess added Out There

Released: 2007

Stephen Fry
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Sans Soleil
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Night and Fog
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Released: 1985

Directed by: Claude Lanzmann

Shoah is a 1985 French documentary film directed by Claude Lanzmann about the Holocaust. The film primarily consists of his interviews and visits to German Holocaust sites across Poland, ...more

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Released: 2010

Directed by: Patricio Guzmán

Nostalgia for the Light is a 2010 documentary drama written and directed by Patricio Guzmán. "In Chile, at three thousand metres altitude, astronomers from all over the world gather ...more
Adam Curtis: Bitter Lake... is listed (or ranked) 17 on the list The Best British Documentaries
Bard added Adam Curtis: Bitter Lake George Bush, George W. Bush, Joanne Herring

Released: 2015

Directed by: Adam Curtis

Bitter Lake is an award winning 2015 BBC documentary by British filmmaker Adam Curtis. It argues that Western politicians have manufactured a simplified story about militant Islam into a good vs. evil argument, informed by and a reaction to Western society's increasing chaos and disorder, which they neither grasp nor understand. The film makes extended use of newsreels and archive footage, and intersperses brief narrative segments with longer segments that depict violence and war in Afghanistan.

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Gimme Shelter
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Eileen Atkins, Judi Dench, Joan Plowright

Released: 2018

Directed by: Roger Michell

Tea with the Dames is a 2018 documentary film directed by Roger Michell. Acting greats and Dames Eileen Atkins, Judi Dench, Joan Plowright, and Maggie Smith have let the cameras in on a ...more
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Harlan County U.S.A.
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West of the Tracks
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Melbourne I. Feltman, Kennie Turner, Margaret McCarron

Released: 1968

Directed by: Albert Maysles, David Maysles, Charlotte Zwerin

Salesman is a 1969 direct cinema documentary film directed by brothers Albert and David Maysles, and Charlotte Zwerin.
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Kenzo Okuzaki

Released: 1987

Directed by: Kazuo Hara

The Emperor's Naked Army Marches On is a 1987 Japanese war documentary film by director Kazuo Hara. The documentary centers on 62-year-old veteran of Japan's Second World War campaign in New ...more
Leaving Neverland is listed (or ranked) 24 on the list The Best British Documentaries

Released: 2019

Directed by: Dan Reed

Leaving Neverland is a 2019 documentary film directed and produced by British filmmaker Dan Reed. Leaving Neverland describes how Michael Jackson allegedly began relationships with two young ...more
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Bud Flanagan, Chesney Allen

Released: 1942

Directed by: Humphrey Jennings

Listen to Britain is a 1942 British propaganda short film by Humphrey Jennings and Stewart McAllister. The film was produced during World War II by the Crown Film Unit, an organisation within ...more